The poetics of female hiketeia: cult, gender and ethnicity in Euripides
My interest in questions of cult and performance goes back to my study of Greek lyric especially Anacreon, Alcman and Sappho. Euripides’ take on cult and performance in a great number of choral odes has always been a subject I have wished to explore. My talks with Lucia Athanassaki, who is also at CHS to work on a related topic, have provided the stimulus to go beyond choral references to representations of cult, and to look at the significance of cult for the characterization of protagonists, choruses or other dramatic characters. My initial plan was to study the significance of Euripidean representations of cultic activities, cultic etiquette, and attitudes to cult for the characterization of the dramatic characters, individual or collective. Although I have not deviated from my original plan, its scope has become more narrow since I have started to look more closely into the matter of supplication.
Supplication scenes can be found in the beginning of many Euripidean dramas, but Andromache is unique because in the course of its action multiple supplication scenes unravel and by the end of the play, all characters are involved in supplication scenes. In a play that has often been often criticized for its lack of thematic unity, hiketeia seems to provide a thematic centre around which plot develops. What is also unique in the Andromache is that in the beginning of the play both the suppliant and the supplicated person are female. Moreover, the altar, at which Andromache stands, belongs to a female goddess, Thetis, who also appears at the end as a dea ex machina; Hermione, also resorts to both an imaginary and a real hiketeia. In his article on hiketeia, John Gould argued that “the role of women in Greek supplication, is perhaps too peripheral and too weakly attested to be made the basis of a general theory.” Hiketeia in Andromache then, with its prominent role and use of female protagonists can, I propose, be a good starting point from which to explore the role of women in Greek supplication.
I believe that this awareness of gender brings renewed appreciation of hiketeia especially because, at least in the case of the Andromache, it is structured around opposing feminine pairs. It has long been argued, by Zeitlin, Rabinowitz, McClure and many others, that women in tragedy transgress gender boundaries and are therefore used to call into question masculine political ideology. Although Andromache is not read as a political play per se, I believe it calls into question the notions or gender roles, ethnicity and social justice. Andromache is a woman, a slave, a barbarian and the mother of an illegitimate child. She is in other words, an embodiment of “the other” whose precarious state is highlighted through supplication. If, as Gould suggests, hiketeia is “a social institution which permits the acceptance of an outsider within a group”, then the multiple supplications in Andromache can be read as means to question Athenian ideas of social norms and challenge his audience to reflect on ethnic or gender assumptions while also exploring anxieties about legitimacy.
My plan is to study as many plays as possible; in addition to the Andromache, the next play I will focus on while in the CHS is Euripides’ Suppliants, which also open with a scene of female supplication. The chorus of Argive mothers come to the temple of Demeter and Kore in Eleusis and ask Aethra for help and the play is concluded with Athena appearing as a dea ex machina. This is a political play in which gender and ethnicity can be discussed via supplication. I also plan to look at the Heracles, Helen and Iphigeneia in Aulis, all of which also include female supplication, since it is my conviction that female hiketeia is used in Euripides as a vehicle to engage with questions of cult, individual and collective characterization, gender and class disparities, justice and family relationships. This is the line of thinking I will pursue while at the eutopia of CHS.
Katerina Ladianou studied Greek Philology at the University of Crete (BA and MA) and received her Doctorate Degree at the Ohio State University. Her PhD thesis discussed the feminine voice in Archaic Greek Poetry. She has taught both Greek and Latin at the Ohio State University, University of Patras, University of Crete, and University of Athens. Her scholarly interests include archaic Greek poetry (both epic and lyric), Roman love elegy, performance and gender. Her recent publications include “The Poetics of Choreia. Imitation and Dance in the Anacreontea,” QUCC 80: 47-58, 2005; “Female Choruses and Gardens of Nymphs: Visualizing Chorality in Sappho” in V. Cassato- A. Lardinois (edd.) The Look of Lyric: Greek Song and the Visual, 2016 and “Staging Female Selves in Sapphic Poetry” in J. Lauwers, J. Opsomer and H. Schwall (edd), Psychology and the Classics: A Dialogue of Disciplines, 2018.